Bugs be Gone! Treating your Clothing to Defend against Ticks and Other Insects

One of the biggest sources of agitation outdoors is dealing with bugs. Of most concern to people outdoors is the threat of disease and sickness many are known to carry. So, what can we do about it? One thing that helps is treating your clothes with Permethrin.

Permethrin is a pesticide with many uses and a relatively safe track record. Some uses of Permethrin include treating lice and scabies in people, protecting crops and livestock from insect infestation, and controlling mosquito populations. One of the main concerns for people outdoors is contracting disease and ailments from these insects which is where treating your clothes with Permethrin has shown to be beneficial. Permethrin is known and even labeled often as an insect repellant, but it actually kills insects that come in contact in contact with it. It does not have a noticeable odor or other mechanism which deters insects from coming near you. It is usually used in conjunction with repellants such as Deet. There is some level of risk in using any pesticide or repellant and each individual will have to make their own decision as to what is right for them.

There are a few ways in which you can treat your clothes and gear. The easiest way would be to send your things to a company who specializes in treating fabrics with Permethrin like Insect Shield. They will take your items and treat them without you having to deal with applying Permethrin yourself. You can ship your clothing to Insect Shield and have them treated, buy clothing from Insect Shield which is already treated, or purchase clothing from one of their many partners who offer lines of clothing pre-treated such as Outdoor Research, Sea to Summit and others. The proprietary process used by companies like Insect Shield are known to have extended periods of effectiveness over self-treatment options. The primary disadvantage in this option, especially for many items, would be cost as they charge per item and they must be shipped to them.

You can also treat clothing and gear yourself. The simplest way to treat clothing and gear is with a spray that you can buy pre-mixed and designed to treat clothing or, mix a solution yourself from a Permethrin concentrate. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. With a pre-mixed option, like Sawyer Premium Insect Repellant, the solution is ready is ready to treat your clothing and gear without mixing. It likely contains other ingredients specifically designed for use with clothing. Using a concentrate and mixing the solution yourself adds extra steps but may be an alternative if treating many items. Brands and availability may differ, depending on your location, but the basic principles are the same. It should be noted that Permethrin is considered relatively safe but is a weak carcinogen and a possible skin irritant. You should treat any chemical with reasonable caution and follow all recommendations given by the manufacturer of the product you use.

As has been stated before, Permethrin is relatively safe but there are a few precautions to consider. Primarily, Permethrin is extremely toxic to aquatic organisms and care should be taken to avoid getting any spray near near water sources or surface water. It is also toxic to cats. Permethrin is the active ingredient in many flea and tick products for dogs but you should keep pets clear of the area until spray has dissipated. While applying Permethrin, it is recommended that you wear personal protective equipment such as long sleeve shirt and pants, gloves, protective eyewear, and a vapor mask. Permethrin is not recommended to treat undergarments and normally sprayed on outer surfaces. I would also not use on any gear or container associated with food storage or preparation.

In using a pre-mixed solution, application is straightforward. A product like Sawyer Premium Insect Repellant comes pre-mixed in a spray bottle ready to use. You should follow the manufacturers recommendations but essentially, you want to find a location that is protected from wind and shaded. Direct sunlight will cause permethrin to break down so a shaded area is required so it has time to soak in and bond to the fabric. Clothing and gear could be laid flat and sprayed but it is preferable to hang your items so you can keep the sprayer vertical. Once you have your items hung from a clothesline or other viable options, you would simply apply Permethrin using a sweeping motion and holding the sprayer 6 to 8 inches from the surface. Once you have dampened the entire outer surface on both sides of the item, you should give 2 to 4 hours to air dry. Once it is dry, it would be considered wearable. Some items, like a tent, could be difficult to hang so spraying set-up is an acceptable alternative.

As a U.S. Marine, we treated our clothing with Permethrin before going on deployments and would spray them laying flat in bulk. We used concentrate and mixed the solution rather than buying a pre-mixed alternative. You can also do this by purchasing a Permethrin concentrate such as Gordon’s Permethrin 10. You must first dilute the concentrate down to .5% Permethrin or 1:200 with water, which is the same concentration as most pre-mixed sprays used on clothing. You can do this in small quantities in a hand held spray bottle but, since we treated a large quantity of clothing in the military, the option we used was mixing in a pump sprayer like you would use in your garden. It would still be preferable to hang your items but a pump sprayer and wand allows more flexibility in the angle of application.

The process is fairly simple and if done properly, should not pose any significant threat to you, animals or the environment. You can use the pre-mixed spray, mix yourself or, as I usually do, a combination of both. If you are not comfortable with doing it yourself, you can always send your clothes to companies that do it for you or buy your clothes pre-treated. Regardless of the method, the benefits of using Permethrin on your clothing and gear are well established and certainly a plus if you spend much time outdoors.

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